An article about art critic Brian Sewell by Deskarati Editor – Jim Robb
Now in his early eighties Brian Sewell is the most important art critic of his day. I have read and watched his work over the last decade and love his art, yes art. As an uneducated art lover, like many others, we generally seek out critics that ‘suit us’. We like our critics to confirm our opinions and praise our beliefs. This is not something confined to art, I notice it all the time in Politics, Science and probably life in general. But it is rare to love a commentator that quite often disagrees with you and especially one who throws your own opinions back in your face with such ferocity. That’s Brian.
Brian is the London Evening Standard’s art critic and has been since he replaced the avant-garde critic Richard Cork back in 1984. Although I was aware of him in my younger years, I had dismissed him as an old fuddy duddy. It wasn’t until his television work started in 2003 that he really captured my attention. He made a documentary about his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain called The Naked Pilgrim for British TV channel 5. This was an arts travelogue around Sewell’s Catholic pilgrimage, but also showed his own struggle with the loss of his faith. His vulnerability shone through which tempered my feelings toward him. From that time on, his critical, acerbic and sometimes down right bad mannered style became enjoyable. I got him. This is also something that Brian has taught me about art, it’s not until you understand the the artist (as best you can) that you can appreciate the work much better. This is a very good life lesson, not just confined to art.
Brian Sewell was the illegitimate son of composer Peter Warlock, who died before he was born. He was educated in London and was offered a place at Oxford University in the early 1950s but chose to go to the Courtauld Insitute of Art at the University of London. He was tutored by the infamous Anthony Blunt, the art historian who was found to be a Soviet spy in the early sixties. (When Anthony Blunt was exposed as a spy to the public in 1979 by Margaret Thatcher, Sewell sheltered his old mentor from the media.) Brian graduated in 1957 and worked as a specialist in Old Masters at Christie’s auction house before becoming an art dealer. He also did his National Service in the Royal Army Service Corps. He started as an art critic in the early eighties and hasn’t looked back.
Brian’s well known for his received pronunciation, given with an air that makes him sound like an upper class twit to those all but the upper classes, I guess. But his personality and playful manner endears his style to many, and really, I mean really, upsets a few. His style of critique is challenging, precise and very unfashionably ‘old British’. He does not suffer fools lightly and has, like all of us, his favourites and his hates. Here is one of his most famous quotes, summing up David Hockney’s exhibition at the RA: “Hockney is not another Turner expressing, in high seriousness, his debt to the old master; Hockney is not another Picasso teasing Velázquez and Delacroix with not quite enough wit; here Hockney is a vulgar prankster, trivialising not only a painting that he is incapable of understanding and could never execute, but in involving him in the various parodies, demeaning Picasso too.” Here is another (you must read this with an upper class British accent): Damien Hirst is “fucking dreadful”. You do really have to love him (and I’m a fan of Hirst).
If I have piqued your interest I do implore you to read Brians coloum in the Evening Standard and here is a little gem he did on Tracy Emin recently. Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore him. – Deskarati